top of page

Sip and Savor January 11, 2022-Tequila!!

After the last Sip and Savor in December, I was discussing the event with Marcela Felix- the talented Assistant Director of Dining from our Grayhawk community in Arizona. Her knowledge of tequila is remarkable, and we wondered if the residents would enjoy it here. We had done a similar tasting, on Cinco de Mayo 2018, but as I was telling her about it I realized that it had been over five years since that day, and that we were probably overdue for this important contribution to fine spirits. Unfortunately, Marcela was unable to join us for this one, but I had a feeling that this tasting couldn't wait.

Blue Agave

Tequila was first produced in the 16th century near the city of Tequila, which was not officially established until 1666. A fermented beverage from the agave plant known as pulque was consumed in pre-Columbian central Mexico before European contact. When the Spanish conquistadors ran out of their own brandy, they began to distill pulque to produce one of North America's first indigenous distilled spirits. While once edged out by more traditional whiskey and vodka, this potent beverage growing in popularity in this country and worldwide. In America, most tequila is consumed in the form of mixed drinks, but in Mexico it is more highly respected, and is usually drunk neat-that is, at room temperature with no mixer or ice. This distillation of the agave deserves the respect it is getting, fine tequila boasts subtleties and nuances as varied as any Scotch or Bourbon. Just as these spirits have their own designations of quality, there are rules about what constitutes Tequila, Mezcal, and its smaller second cousin; Sotol.

Tequila Ocho Single Estate “El Pedregal” Silver- Jalisco

The first spirit we tasted, was a silver tequila. This means that it was not aged in any kind of wood, but bottled immediately after release. Like all true tequilas, this is made from 100% blue agave, in specific regions of Mexico. The advantage of starting with this one is that the flavor of the agave is clearer and brighter than some of the others. The reason that true tequila is made from only the blue agave plant is that these plants are sweeter and have more flavor than other agaves, and the altitude of Jalisco allows them to come to full fruition over a period of about six or seven years. Tequila Ocho is a very respected brand and the name "Pedregal" translates to a rocky or stony area, like the lava-rich fields in which this is made. The nose was very bright, like lime and cut grass. A first sip was smooth, but with an mineral edge at the back of the palate like chalk. As I looked over the roomful of people tasting this, I got a mix of expressions, from thoughtful concentration to skeptical.

To pair with this, I wanted something both earthy and potent. I juiced about ten pounds of carrots and added the resulting gallon to about a half gallon of blood orange juice. I cooked it for about thirty minutes over low heat until it was reduced by half, then added some white verjus [the tart, fresh juice of unripe wine grapes] and gelatin. After letting it set, I diced it up and served it on a spoon with a wedge of kiwi. This was excellent, and when we tasted the fiery silver again, it was tamed a bit, with the edges smoothed out and the grassy flavor enhanced. Very nice.

Don Roberto “1924” Anejo-Jalisco

Our next tequila was a beautiful amber in color and could almost be mistaken for Cognac at first glance. The notes of caramel and spice were evident even before lifting it to my nose. This Anejo had been aged in charred oak for 18 months, and the flavor was rich, like tobacco, but with a finish like roasted peppers. That this one was more mature than the last was evident, and I could see that this was a crowd favorite.

When Tequila is aged in oak, it mellows in much the same way as other spirits. Reposado, Anejo, and Extra Anejo all refer to the time that the tequila has spent in oak, but the type of oak and the condition of that oak is up to the Mezcalero who creates it.

Cucumber and Grilled Pineapple Shot with Sal de Gusano crusted Ham

To match with this, I wanted something with the flavor of the grill, but we always want the spirit to be the star so I didn't want to go too powerful. The flavor of agave has always reminded me of cucumbers in a way, but for a grilled component I wanted something acidic but sweet. Charring pineapples caramelizes and concentrates their sweetness, so I added these and some English cucumbers to my blender with some mint and a squeeze of lime. The shot was very refreshing, but needed salt which was added in the form of a cube of ham rolled in Sal de Gusano. I was counting on the fact that our crowd was on their second tequila already, and mostly spoke English as a first language here... As we all tasted the shot and followed with the smoky salty ham, I explained that Gusano means worm in Spanish, and that the dried and ground agave worm was part of that flavor. I got mostly laughs and pleased expressions. Mostly.

The old legend of an agave worm in a bottle of Mezcal is almost certainly not historical, but they have been eaten in parts of Mexico for centuries and are delicious when dried and roasted. The rich flavor of this snack brought out the oakiness of the bottled gold, and we all finished this one con gusto.

Desert Door Texas Sotol-Driftwood Texas

So as long as we are tasting Tequilas and Mezcals, I wanted to add this one to the list. If you've never heard of Sotol, don't be surprised. Although, maybe you should be... Sotol is a rugged plant native to the northern arid regions of Mexico and into West Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. This was a very important plant in the region, with the early Puebloan cultures using it for everything from food to clothing, tools, weapons, and of course a beverage in archeological records dating back as far as 7000 years ago-such and important resource should not be so easily forgotten. Also known as the Desert Spoon, this plant is not actually related to agave, and is part of the asparagus family. During the prohibition era, thousands of gallons were produced clandestinely to be sold to thirsty Americans, but the practice died out after the second world war and the art of making Sotol was almost lost. Desert Door operates in Texas, harvesting plants wild, but leaving the roots intact to ensure another harvest. The spirit won a Gold Medal in the international Spirits Competition in Denver last year so I felt like this one belonged here.

Desert Spoon in bloom

As we sniffed the glass, one thing was evident; this was much more tame than anything we had tasted so far. The aroma was very subtle, with a hint of mango and orange. The flavor was very clean, not overwhelming in any way but bold enough to get your attention. There was an aftertaste of spice-maybe cinnamon or anise?

Passion Fruit-marinated Roasted Shrimp with Prickly Pear Gastrique

Thinking of the desert homeland of this drink, my thoughts went to prickly pear cactus and the beautiful fruit of that spiny succulent. Shrimp is a great combination with any tequila based drink, so I felt that we could work with this. I marinated large shrimp in passion fruit purée overnight then roasted them. Served at room temperature in a pool of prickly pear gastrique, this was floral and fruity with a bit of smokiness where the juice had caramelized.

After tasting the Sotol again, the spiciness of the liquor was more pronounced but still very subtle. Certainly an acquired taste but one I could get used to.

Banhez Mezcal Artisanal-Oaxaca

So now we come to Mezcal. The room was noticeably louder now, with conversations and giggles rising from many tables. I heard more than one resident happily discussing the differences between Sotol and Anejo Tequila, which is of course the goal here. My aim in these pairings is always informational but most importantly fun.

Tequila can only be made from the the blue agave plant, while Mezcal can be made from any agave plant-there are over thirty. Tequila is more refined, using autoclaves to roast the hearts of the plant and ultramodern distillation methods, while agave for Mezcal is cooked in open pots or ovens, using locally-sourced firewood, imparting a smoky flavor and uses simpler, less efficient pot stills that keep much of the agave essence in the final product. This Mezcal, from the state of Oaxaca, gave off a heady smoky aroma, like roasted pineapple or grilled mango. The flavor was very strong; deep, earthy overtones with a warm caramel finish. Not for the faint of heart. The expressions around the room were both happy and dubious, some declared it delicious, while some asked if there was any more Anejo...

Chili-crusted Beef Tenderloin

with Tomatillo salsa and Sal de Chapulin

To pair with this, I felt like nothing short of beef would do. I brushed some of our Vi honey on beef tenderloin, then rolled it in powdered adobo before grilling to medium rare. Thinly sliced it was served over a crispy corn tortilla, with a topping of diced tomatillos tossed in lime, mint, cilantro and fish sauce. As a final garnish, each one was sprinkled with Sal de Chapulin. If you have already fed ground worms to your

guests, what difference would it make if you also served them ground grasshoppers, right? Chapulin refers to a species of grasshoppers eaten in the Oaxacan region for centuries. Roasted with lime and salt, they are a popular snack served at sporting events, and more recently as an ultra chic garnish for margaritas by foodies everywhere. Why not? The beef was tender and delicious, and the spicy nutty flavor tamed some of the fiery smokiness of the Mezcal, but not all the way. I made sure that everyone had finished their taste before telling them about the grasshoppers, and no one seemed fazed at all by the revelation.

My colleague and good friend Greg Beckley is the Director of Dining in our Grayhawk community. His lovely wife Patricia makes a wonderful Posole with roasted poblanos and tomatillos, so we finished the day with her recipe to our happy residents who declared it to be perfect and many asked that I thank her for the treat (thank you Patricia!).

I want to thank everyone who helped put this tasting together, I know I had a great time and can't wait until the next one.

46 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page